U of Alberta dean stole speech: med students

Medical students at the University of Alberta are disappointed after they say their dean copied a graduation speech.

Medical students at the University of Alberta are disappointed after they say their dean copied a graduation speech.

Students say a speech given by dean of medicine Philip Baker during a convocation banquet Friday night, which told personal stories about how medical science has helped his wife and children, was lifted from a talk given by surgeon Atul Gawande at Stanford University's 2010 medical school convocation.

"It was a phenomenal speech.… I was very impressed with the speech. It was very eloquently given and reflected very well on the evening," said medical student Jonathan Zaozirny, who was there for Baker's remarks.

But when students looked up parts of the speech online later in the evening, Zaozirny said, they learned the speech was not written by Baker.

"The speech that we just received from the dean was word for word — minus a few small changes, changing Stanford medical school to University of Alberta medical school, erasing a few lines about medicare in the United States — but other than that, it was word for word … and it was a bit of a shock."

Zaozirny said Baker even included a pause in the speech's introduction.

"When you read the manuscript of the previous speech, it's exactly how it was given in 2010, even with the pause," he said.

"I can understand he's a phenomenally busy guy — he has a big job and he's got a lot of things to do — but there's also a certain responsibility. I mean, we just graduated from medical school after four long years of work, and I think we kind of deserved our own speech."

'Very personal' story

Zaozirny said he was dismayed by the revelation.

"The story we were given was very personal and there was a lot of very personal things … that were said to us, and it was never really referenced that he was giving a speech written by someone else," he said. 

"There's several parts where he talks about one of his children becoming ill, his wife having medical problems, he describes a patient that he had — which is not a patient that he had — and it's a very personal story … and it was a very good story, it's just the things that happened in the story didn't happen to him."

Gawande's commencement address at Stanford was republished in the New Yorker magazine, for which he is a staff writer. In it, Gawande, also a professor of surgery at Harvard University, mentions his wife's two miscarriages and his first-born child's arterial birth defect.

Zaozirny said the speech would not have been an issue if Baker had attributed it to its author.

"To reference that much of a speech, of someone else's work, 15 full minutes of a speech basically word for word and not give any indication it's not yours, … that's what disappoints me more than anything," he said. "I would like an apology, or at least an explanation."

Class president Brittany Barber, in a statement written on behalf of the students, said the incident is disappointing.

"The University of Alberta medical school has given us tremendous academic support and has worked hard to provide a program of educational excellence," she said.

"To realize all this hard work may be marred by this unanticipated incident is very disheartening to the students. People should know that we will not stand for this academic dishonesty, and our deepest wish is that this incident does not reflect poorly on the integrity of our class, the medical school and, ultimately, the university."

Baker, an obstetrician-gynecologist who has been dean at U of A since 2009, has not been reached for comment.